December 30, 2016
After several consecutive days of shopping, we decide to stay home today. It turns into a good opportunity for running some errands closer to our house—dupattas, pico, etc. We live in Federal B Area, and the Anarkali bazaar falls behind our house. The large market surrounding it meets all of our basic needs. Ours and everyone else’s homes open up into an alley in the back. The shop at the corner on the road used to be Uncle ki dukaan long ago. It was a small store run by a friendly, bearded man from the corner house. I would visited regularly. He had a glass shelf that ran the length of the shop horizontally which he sat behind. I would peer into the glass at the different candies—the Coca Cola one, Fanty, the Soft Mint, Mitchell’s Toffees, Murghi ke Anday, the long space rocket chews, and BP’s Gai-waali Toffee, its wrapper red with a cow’s face in the middle.
Across the street was Gurya Baji’s house, that is now a complex full of shops owned by her elder brother, and their apartment sits above what was their house. Walking toward the market I observe at how our street has changed. The green shop of candies has been long gone, as are recent endeavours like Khalid Mamoo’s clinic and Ahmed’s shop. Further down, things are still recognizable. Mairaj Sweets is on the corner like always, where they seem to perpetually be frying bright orange squiggles of amarti. The bakery is at the corner, where Nana Abba used to bring me my favorite chocolate biscuits from. Sadaf and Asim Bhai and Mumaanijaan all brought them for me this time the first day I came.
Across the street is Kashan, a store that sells fresh jalebi and kachoris, as well as eggs, bread, biscuits, candy. There’s a milk shop, called a nagori in urdu, selling milk in little plastic baggies. The road going straight passes Yusuf Plaza, a main landmark utilized when giving directions to our house. The road to the right enters you into the bazaar. It begins with chicken and meat shops on one corner that have now spread out into the open, creating a mass brigade of flies. Other shops sell grains and wheat and oils. The street is scattered with thelaa waalas selling palm sized apples, varieties of oranges, guavas, tiny and sweet bananas, an array of vegetables, peanuts, figs, fresh coconut off of carts. Dupatta mahal is on the right a little further down. Small stands sell finger sized, colored pappadums. Others sell girls’ clips and accessories.
On the left is a small alleyway called Dupatta Gali. This is where the dyer and pico guys’ shops are. We go in to meet Amir Dupatta Waala and drop off clothes. He’s the main Rang Rez (textile dyer) in this market and we’ve been going to his shop for years. Something about his face is unforgettable. I don’t know if it stays in my mind all year, all three years in this case, but as soon as I see him, an exchange takes place. We recognize him and he recognizes us, everyone smiles and greets. It feels like we’ve been seeing him all year long. We see that his shop is newly tiled and a lot more organized. It makes us happy to see him doing so well and we make sure to let him know. He responds with “aap ki duaa hai (it is because of your prayers).”
The way this place works is that we often need to get white material dyed for a shalwar or dupatta. We give them a scrap of material, three inches long, an inch wide at most. And they match the color perfectly. I stand there watching the work going on at the side. I love this part. His assistant seems wary of my staring but I can’t help it. There’s iron tubs of water sitting over flames, often with a garment soaking inside. A tray of musty powders sits to the side, and the workers scoop up spoonfuls and mix them in to different tubs. Their sense of color-mixing appears to be built into their intuition. There are no charts or manuals on how to make which color, or how much powder to put in. They just know to make a dupatta green like a bottle or green like cilantro. The scents and bouts of heat from the flames mix together into a wonderful sensation and warmth. There are a couple people, including Amir himself, doing the dying work, mixing the garment with a large wooden paddle and adjusting color. Sometimes on the side, a couple young assistants are drying the garment by holding both ends and flicking the entire dupatta up and down into the air. The whole process tends to takes your breath away.
We drop off our dupattas for dying and others for pico. My main mission in this bazaar today is buying Ajrak. It’s a beautiful block printed material originating from the Sindhi culture. It exists most often in black, white and red, or blue, white and red. The patterns vary between flowers, chakras, and squares, with an elaborate border on four sides. Ajrak shawls are worn by women and men both. I’m completely in love with it. Since I’ve bought it before from this bazaar, I lead my mom and aunts to the shop. The flies are becoming unbearable, but as it’s the single animal on earth I’m not afraid of, I try not to mind them much. Their quantity here is really astonishing though. The bazaar is also in a bad state. There is so much more traffic, and it’s hard to walk through it without running into a rickshaw or motorbike or car. And the trash. There’s so much trash everywhere. I just can’t understand what happened. We make it to the ajrak seller. I like two different ones and ended up buying both. The first would be pico’d that same afternoon, and worn the rest of the day.
This time around, it’s not identifiable what’s in fashion and what’s not. There really isn’t any one style. Nor is anything too long or too short. The things I see people wear back in the US I haven’t seen much of here. Most stores we usually buy from have little to offer. It takes a great deal of effort to find one or two ‘I-guess-it’s-nice’ kurtis. The light embroidery, the beiges, the designer brands—all appear dull and outdated.
What does stand out as fresh to me this time around, is for lack of better explanation, the things that look very ‘Pakistani.’ The outfits that have a regional touch to them are looking wonderful. I haven’t bought much in the past few days, but anything I did get seems to have a Balochi or Sindhi influence. For years we’ve been wearing only pants on kurtis and everything else. Here, shalwars and dupattas are ‘in’ and look good. Pants, again outdated, almost unfashionable. It is a time of Pakistan being its old self maybe.
At dinnertime I had taftaan from a famous place around here, and it was so good I stopped speaking. I don’t think food has ever stolen my voice before. It felt like a dream.
At the end of the day I turned on the television that is barely used anymore. Indian channels are banned here right now because of recent unrest with our neighbor. I put on a Waheed Murad movie that my uncle, aunt, mom and I watched bit of. I can’t figure out the name for the life of me, but it had Lehri in it, and was delightfully fun to watch.
On one last note, I started reading Tales of Toyland. To my extreme delight, its format is similar to one of my most favorite books ever, Tuppeny, Feefo and Jinks, also by Enid Blyton. I found that book three years ago on my last trip to Pakistan. It’s about three goblins that end up living together and have a series of interesting adventures. And it is such a remarkable piece of storytelling. I’m not shy to say it could be called an ancestor in the kind of creativity Harry Potter books display.
Tales of Toyland is about a sailor doll and a fairy doll who end up in a nursery of mean toys, and decide they will leave the place and start a new life together in Toyland. Each chapter is a different story like the goblin book. It’s less adventurous and more charming, but it certainly makes your heart melt, making for a happy night’s sleep.